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I purchased a 1966 ranch a couple months ago. There is one bathroom with a tub/shower combo, featuring (in my opinion) beautiful blue tiled walls. The tiles are in good condition and I was originally planning on just re-doing the grout.

But then I discovered, when the shower is in use and water hits the wall, water is trickling in between the tiles and trough the backer board (I’m not positive I have the correct terminology here).

I believe this is only happening on the wall with the shower fixtures and nobs, as this is the only wall where where the grout is cracking/crumbling and I can see gaps in between the tiles.

There is an access panel for the tub/shower pipes in the closet behind the shower and I can see that that there is definitely water damage on the backer board.

My hope is that I can have just the one wall redone and use this as an opportunity to update the shower fixtures from the old 3 knob/valve system to new anti-scald valve and fixtures. I called a contractor who recommended I hire a bathroom renovation company come out and redo the shower whole shower with a fiberglass insert.

Also, I did have a water damage restoration company come out and they suggested I need to have the whole shower ripped out and redone. But they didn’t even really look at any of the damage before saying that so I am not sure how to proceed.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the tiles so I really do not want to have to demo the whole thing.

Long story short, I am looking for advice on what kind of professional I need to hire to do this work.

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    The bad news is that tiles are not really reusable, but you might be able to find similar tiles. It does sound like that wall will need to be taken down and redone. It should not be a hard to do job, so a good handyman/contractor should be able to do it. Ask your friends/neighbours for recommendations.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 11 at 18:26
  • Yeah, old showers weren't good with waterproofing. If the tiles themselves are somewhat water impervious and ceramic/porcelain (they probably are all of these things), epoxy grout is waterproof. Depending on the level of water damage, epoxy could potentially salvage the existing install, but no manufacturer is going out on a limb to recommend it without a waterproof membrane. You're not going to find many contractors eager to use epoxy and especially to warranty the job. Having a better picture of the water damage would be helpful if this possibility interests you.
    – popham
    Commented Mar 11 at 18:56
  • Your original idea works. Just replace the grout and seal it
    – Traveler
    Commented Mar 11 at 19:12
  • @Traveler, I don't like the idea of depending on regular resealing. Most grout gets sealed just the once by its installer, if even the once.
    – popham
    Commented Mar 11 at 19:26
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    @Traveler With possible water damage inside the wall, you usually do not want to just reseal, unless a slumlord.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 11 at 19:54

2 Answers 2

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Since you made it very clear you must/want to keep the tiles

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the tiles

Without knowing if any water damage is behind the files you could repair the grout.

It classifies as DIY job.

For that you will need a tool called Dremel with attachments specifically made for grout removal.

You can do a primitive test if any severe water damage is behind. Once you have removed a portion of grout, push a nail (hands only) and observe how far it goes in without resitance.

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  • You might also mention a few spots to concentrate the testing, but, yeah, this is a good step one for optimists, sentimentalists, and single bath households.
    – popham
    Commented Mar 11 at 21:12
  • I've been curious—other than "grout is cheaper," why is silicone caulk reserved for changes of plane and not tile field?
    – Huesmann
    Commented Mar 12 at 13:25
  • @Huesmann, you could use caulk instead of grout for wall tile maybe, but for a floor I would want the grout to share shearing stresses across neighboring tiles. I suppose for large tiles, caulked grout lines on the floor would be fine, too. I'm always paranoid about messing up the waterproof membrane when removing grout or caulk, so for a modern install I would prefer the grout because it's easier to remove and replace without potentially damaging the waterproof membrane.
    – popham
    Commented Mar 12 at 18:46
  • @popham but the grout and waterproof membrane are effectively decoupled by thinset, no?
    – Huesmann
    Commented Mar 13 at 12:58
  • @Huesmann, I don't understand which part of my statements you're arguing against. The damage I anticipate is from me oafishly scratching the membrane with my tools.
    – popham
    Commented Mar 13 at 15:14
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A lot of tile was very badly done that long ago (1966) - it was common to use regular drywall or "green board" which is a slightly moisture-resistant (read: NOT waterproof and NOT supposed to be used in wet areas like shower walls).

The reason many of the water damage and renovation companies are suggesting fiberglass inserts is that they're an easy and inexpensive way to (re)finish a shower. You can get decent results very quickly.

As crip659 said in a comment: tiles are not reusable, and they're very hard to match. So even if you have only one wall with damage, you likely need to replace all of the tile (3 walls or more) and you could price-compare concrete tile backer (what SHOULD have been used), tile, mortar, and some labor and quickly see that fiberglass inserts are cheaper. You pay more for tile but that's worth it to some. It cost so much that I learned how to install it myself to redo my own showers in my first home.

I would recommend strongly considering the fiberglass inserts, but if you decide that's not for you, find some tile you like and keep asking around your area for tile installers/bathroom renovators until you find one that'll install it correctly for a price you're OK with.

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    From what the OP said, I doubt they will be happy with an insert, but if they want to take their time and learn, it does not sound like a difficult job to learn on. I did a decent job on my first tile jobs.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 11 at 19:12
  • Thanks Fredric! I am willing to pay a little more to have tile over fiberglass. I am pretty handy and tend to think if I put my mind to it I can accomplish anything, so I have thought about trying to the tile job myself. But my partner is team hire a professional.
    – aurora
    Commented Mar 12 at 16:57

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